On the first of a series of interviews with the TCSA’s Equity Commissioners, Arthur talked to Boykin Smith, former Vice-President of Campaigns and Equity and current International Students Commissioner. The purpose of this series is to shed light on the issues that Equity Commissioners address and the campaigns and events that they host.
Smith notes that the Equity Commissioners “provide a space for marginalized folks to have a spot and a voice in their Student Union,” in this way showing proper representation of the student body.
Boykin Smith has been involved in international student issues since his first year at Trent University and is familiar with the work that past International Student Commissioners have done in the last five years, including Rhea Seegobin and Jessica Rogers. Additionally, Smith was elected into the position in his second year at Trent and now returns in his fourth year with more experience and a clear set of goals.
Smith will continue working with the campaign, ‘Fairness for International Students,’ which was created last year by the International Student Commissioner. The campaign touches on three prevalent issues that pose concerns for international students, including rising tuition fees, access to health insurance through the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP), and regressive immigration laws.
Smith notes that his focus will be on tuition fees, as the Canadian Federation of Students is addressing the insurance aspect at a provincial level and Prime Minister Trudeau has stated that he will be changing immigration policies, including those that relate to international students. Part of these changes will be to reverse the regressive policies introduced by the Harper government by including the four years of university into permanent residency applications.
The ‘Fairness for International Students’ campaign and lobbying efforts conducted by the TCSA seek to regulate the increases to international student tuition fees. Last year, Trent University planned to increase international student tuition fees by 7%, while increasing domestic fees by only 3%. The international student community’s response, with the help of the ‘Fairness for International Students’ campaign, the TCSA, and the Trent International Students Association (TISA), managed to stop this 7% increase and instead reduced it to 3%, the equivalent of domestic tuition fees.
Smith hopes to continue working in this aspect and leave his term as International Student Commissioner with an established framework that prevents international student tuition fees from rising at rates higher than those of domestic tuition fees. He notes that regulating international student tuition fees will also set Trent University apart as a leader in providing accessible education to international students and consolidate its reputation as a place where the world learns together.
Smith has also been working on an initiative to foster greater links between the TCSA and TISA. As International Student Commissioner, he sits at TISA’s board meetings. Through his efforts, the regional groups under the TISA umbrella and TISA itself can access the TCSA’s support to promote an event through the TCSA’s marketing outlets. Afrobana, hosted by the Trent African and Caribbean Student Union (TACSU), is the first event to make use of this initiative.
Smith also notes that the language surrounding international students needs to change. This summer, the Peterborough Examiner published a racist, discriminatory, and poorly researched piece on international student jobs. Arthur responded to this article in an attempt to change the negative stigma that the piece displayed against international students. Smith argued that the piece reinforces the reasons as to why the negative language surrounding international students needs to change. Despite efforts to alter this stigma, it is still very much alive.
“No one wants to talk about oppression,” Smith says, arguing that the negative language used to depict international students is part of this process. He notes that Trent needs to work more on education surrounding oppression in order to challenge it, as, because it is an uncomfortable topic, it is one that is not often discussed, and yet “sexual assault, rape, makes people uncomfortable, but we talk about it, and by ignoring [this] oppression, what are we saying to students?”
Equity Commissioner positions have in the past been subject to low voter turnouts and lack of interest in the University community. However, Smith stresses the importance of these positions in providing alternative voices within the student union. He notes that it is also the role of the TCSA itself to promote these roles in order to ensure that the elected commissioners adequately fill their roles.
The TCSA, under the initiative of President Alaine Spiwak, will be releasing a video with all equity commissioners and cabinet members providing information on their roles and plans, in hopes of increasing interest during election time, as Equity Commissioners seek to create spaces for marginalized student populations to express their concerns and to address them.